A moment of joy as teen is rescued after 5 days

But hopes fade of finding more survivors as death toll crosses 5,500

KATHMANDU - Hundreds of onlookers cheered as rescuers toiling amid the rubble left by Nepal's earthquake pulled a teenager to safety yesterday after he had been trapped for five days, a rare moment of joy for a country struggling to cope with the disaster.

Officials said the chances of finding more survivors were fading as the death toll exceeded 5,500. But Nepal's Armed Police Force managed to save 15-year- old Pema Lama from the collapsed ruins of Kathmandu's Hilton Hotel.

"I saw the police drilling for four hours to remove mounds of debris before they could pull him out," said Mr Ambar Giri, a medical worker who was at the scene.

While rescuers were out in the capital despite heavy morning rain, helicopters could not fly to the worst-hit areas in the countryside of the Himalayan nation.

"The rain is adding to the problems. Nature seems to be against us," said Mr Rameshwor Dandal, chief of the disaster management centre at Nepal's home ministry.

Many people have been sleeping in the open since last Saturday's quake. According to the United Nations, 600,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged. It said eight million people have been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicine over the next three months.

An official from Nepal's Home Ministry said the number of confirmed deaths from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake had risen to 5,582 by yesterday afternoon, and almost 11,200 were injured.

Anger over the pace of the rescue has flared up in some areas, with Nepalis accusing the government of being too slow to distribute international aid that has flooded into the country. It has yet to reach many in need, particularly in remote areas hard to access given the quake damage and poor weather.

Tensions between foreigners and Nepalis desperate to be evacuated have also surfaced. In Langtang valley, where 150 people are feared trapped, a helicopter pilot was taken hostage by locals demanding to be evacuated first, one report said.

In Ashrang village in Gorkha, one of the worst-hit districts about four hours by road from Kathmandu, hundreds of villagers were living out in the open with little food and water despite boxes of biscuits, juice and sacks of rice and wheat being stored in a nearby government office. Police commandos shut the iron gates of the building, refusing people access while they counted relief supplies.

"We told them we can manage without their help," said Mr Mohammad Ishaq, a school teacher, who had been offered four plastic sheets. "It is as if we are doing everything on our own, feeding our people, tending to the sick."

But district facilitator Dipendra Shrestha said the local administration was doing what it could to get aid to victims and help foreign teams offering rescue and medical support. "Owners are refusing to rent out vehicles," he said. "We only have 20 at the moment. We need many more."

Although the aftershocks since last Saturday's quake seemed to have subsided, fresh tremors were felt in Kathmandu overnight.

Some people who had spent the past four nights camped out in the open for fear of aftershocks spent their first night back home.

Signs of normal life were returning yesterday to Kathmandu, with shops opening, some for the first time since the quake, and vegetable vendors laying out produce at the devastated Durbar Square.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE